Education Beat: Flint Schools — too many buildings, not enough students to fill them

By Harold C. Ford

“It’s April; school closings should be announced today, May at the latest … I’m begging you to get focused.” – Bruce Jordan, teachers union official, Michigan Education Association; April 2023

“You only need half of the [existing] buildings.” — Nicole Blocker, senior vice president, Plante Moran Cresa, May 25, 2023

Nicole Blocker, Senior Vice President Plante Moran Cresa. (Photo source: Plante Moran website)

“The idea is to get your [Flint Board of Education members’] thoughts. It’s not for us to make a decision.” – Kevelin Jones, superintendent, Flint Community Schools, May 25, 2023

[Editor’s Note: The Flint Board of Education met publicly five times in May and June 2023 for nearly 18 hours. In the following report, our Education Beat reporter, Harold Ford, focused on the critical issues related to loss of students, subsequent loss of revenue, and an overabundance of school buildings and properties.]

Flint Community Schools (FCS) has been losing students and closing school buildings for decades. After a May 25, 2023 report to the Flint Board of Education (FBOE) by the auditing firm Plante Moran Cresa (PMC), it appears that doing nothing in response is financially untenable and may result in an existential crisis for Flint’s public school system.

PMC reported that FCS has accumulated 32 vacant, uninhabited buildings with 2.1 million square feet of floor space sitting on 270 acres. Additionally, FCS owns 19 vacant parcels of land comprising 22 acres.

“Maintenance costs for vacant properties,” according to PMC, “is estimated at $8-10 million each year.”

At present, FCS serves students in 11 school buildings, about the twice the number it needs per “industry standards,” according to Joe Asperger, PMC senior vice president.

Plante Moran Cresa Senior Vice President Joe Asperger. (Photo source: Plante Moran website)

“All eleven buildings (with nearly 1 million square feet),” Asperger warned, “need upwards in excess of $177 million over the next ten years to bring them up (to speed).”

Asperger reported that, “less than 50 percent (of 188 FCS elementary classrooms) are being used for general education purposes.” He added that only 38 percent of FCS secondary buildings are currently used for general ed purposes.

Overall, according to PMC, “FCS (is) currently … operating, maintaining, and securing nearly three million square feet and nearly 450 acres.

About 12,000 Flint students do not attend Flint’s public schools

At the May 25 FBOE meeting, FCS Superintendent Kevelin Jones and Joyce Ellis-McNeal, FBOE vice president, agreed that 15,000 school-age children live in Flint. Yet, just under 3,000 students are enrolled in Flint’s public school system. Asperger told the FBOE that 75 to 80 percent of Flint’s children “are going someplace else.”

PMC presented a “Student Mobility Public Schools” report prepared by the Genesee Intermediate School District (GISD). The upshot of the GISD report is that Flint students are transferring to other area school districts:

  • Drawing more than 500 FCS students each year are: Westwood Heights, Carman-Ainsworth, Kearsley;
  • 150-500 students each year: Grand Blanc, Swartz Creek, Bendle, Atherton, Bentley;
  • 50-150 students each year: Beecher, Flushing, Mt. Morris, Genesee, Davison;
  • 10-50 students each year: Linden, Lake Fenton, Fenton, Goodrich, Clio, Montrose.

Some other area districts draw fewer than ten FCS students each year. Other options for Flint students include home schooling, private schools, and charter schools.

In recent years, each student has netted the district that s/he attends $8,000-$10,000 in state aid. Thus, a loss of just 100 students would cost a school district $800,000 to $1 million in lost state aid.

PMC recommendations

Three major conclusions and/or recommendations were made by PMC during their May 25 presentation to the FBOE:

  • FCS should reduce the total number of school buildings occupied by students from 11 to five to seven. Based on “industry standards,” FCS should reduce eight elementary schools to four; three secondary school should be reduced to one or two.
  • The reduction of approximately 450,000 square feet – 45 percent of current square footage – would decrease FCS operational costs and capital needs by 40 to 50 percent; capital needs could be reduced by about $80 million over a 10-year period.
  • FCS should plan for an enrollment decrease of about 500 students and subsequent loss of about $5 million each year from the General Fund.

“We need our babies back.”

“Young peoples is coming back to Flint,” claimed Joyce Ellis-McNeal, FBOE vice president.   McNeal offered no evidence to support this claim.

To the contrary, Nicole Blocker, senior vice president at Plante Moran Cresa, told board members: “We see a projected enrollment decrease of about 500 scholars. Over a five-to-ten-year period we’re projecting 2,500 students in Flint schools.”

“We need our babies back,” Jones said.

“Financial cliff”

FCS Interim Chief Financial Officer Brian Jones, reported a “great” fund balance, as it currently exists, buoyed by ESSER/COVID-19 Economic Relief funding from the Federal Government.

FCS Interim Chief Financial Officer, Brian Jones. (Photo source: Linkedin website)

However, “Once that (COVID-19) money dries up,” Jones warned, “if careful adjustments are not made, the district could be facing a financial cliff … It’s my hope that sufficient adjustments are made.”

The precarious financial future of Flint’s public schools caused, in part, by its excess inventory of buildings and properties has not escaped the attention of FCS stakeholders as reflected in comments made at the June 14 and 21 FBOE meetings:

  • Felicia Naimark, FCS speech language pathologist: “I don’t see on the agenda for tonight any savings for the closing and consolidating of the buildings.”
  • A C Dumas, community activist, after recently witnessing the torching of Stewart Elementary that he and other family members saw happening in person: “Another vacant school on fire. So, what are you all going to do with these buildings? … We need to get rid of these dilapidated schools.”
  • Bruce Jordan, Michigan Education Association official, who serves 18 local units in 10 Genesee County Districts: “I don’t know what it’s going to take on this, but y’all gotta sell some of this stuff. It is not ‘generational wealth.’ It is an anchor that is going to sink you … For the love of Pete, act. The debate is over. You need to do something; so, close a building … The teachers are vying for it. The parents and community know it has to happen. And you can’t do it over the summer … You guys have done zero to address your operational deficit since you took office.”
  • Nadia Rodriguez, FCS educator: “How many times do we have to have this conversation? … I don’t need grandstanding … whitesplaining by board members about generational wealth because that’s irrelevant to this conversation. What we need is action … Do what needs to be done for the community.”

After five public meetings of the FBOE in May and June totaling nearly 18 hours, no definitive steps were announced toward downsizing the district in terms of its current lineup of school buildings and properties – those that are occupied and those that are vacant.

EVM Ed Beat reporter Harold Ford can be reached at

Author: Tom Travis

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